President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law a repeal of the military's 17-year-old policy banning openly gay service members.
"This law I am about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend," said Obama, who was greeted by a cheering crowd as he took the podium at the Department of Interior.
"No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military, regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance because they happen to be gay," Obama said. "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love."
Obama thanked "the Democrats and Republicans who put conviction ahead of politics to get this done together."
Overturning of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, first implemented in 1993, is viewed as a significant victory for Obama and gay rights organizations. Military leaders have said it could take time to implement the repeal.
The Senate voted 65-31 over the weekend to clear a standalone bill to get rid of the policy after failing to muster support for a repeal as part of the annual defense authorization measure.
The House cleared the DADT repeal last week.
The bill signing drew dozens of stakeholders, administration officials and Members of Congress. Among those present were: Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.); Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.); and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.